Michigan Delegation Urges Air Force to Select Air National Guard Base for KC-46 Tankers

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A KC-46A Pegasus lands at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan
A KC-46A Pegasus lands at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, on July 30, 2021. (Terry L. Atwell/U.S. Air National Guard)

Will the F-35s or Boeing's F-15 EX fighter jets be coming to Selfridge Air National Guard base in Harrison Township?

That's still up in the air.

What the base could land in the very near future is the next generation of refueling tankers, expected to replace the aging KC-135 Stratotankers, currently flying out of Selfridge.

"We are excited about the Air Force's desire to select Selfridge Air National Guard Base as the new home to the KC-46 platform, an indispensable source of tanker capacity for national security," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said, in a statement to The Macomb Daily. "We will continue to aggressively advocate for a fifth generation fighter to replace the current A-10 aircraft, a determination that must be made to retain the viability of Selfridge as we know it today."

Rogers' comments came on the heels of a Michigan Congressional Delegation (CODEL) letter signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and nearly all of the state's lawmakers including Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, as well as U.S. Rep. John James, urging U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to select SANG as host base for a new squadron of 12 KC-46 A refueling tankers and next generation of fighter jets replacing the aging A-10s.

Peters, Stabenow and more recently James have led previous bipartisan efforts to ensure the Department of Defense follows through on its pledge that Selfridge will continue to play a critical and ongoing role for our national security.

That includes calling on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to include funding in the 2024 defense appropriation bills for additional fighter aircraft such as the F-15EX at Selfridge.

This same group, along with Rogers and others in Michigan's congressional delegation, participated in the groundbreaking for a new $28 million aircraft hangar made possible by federal funding Peters secured through his work on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The new 41,900 square-foot facility equipped for fighter maintenance among other things will help to better position the base to be selected for a new fighter mission.

The CODEL letter sent to Kendall reiterates what the Air Force has already said about the Harrison Township base being "an indispensable source of tanker capacity for our national security."

"We know Selfridge's advantages, its exceptional operational track record, and the 127th Wing's outstanding personnel make Selfridge an ideal candidate for a squadron of KC-46s and a future fighter mission," the lawmakers wrote. "Our delegation and state are totally dedicated to fighting for Selfridge with Governor Whitmer's proposed $100 million investment in base and runway improvements a tangible example of this commitment. We look forward to working closely with you and your office to ensure Michigan continues to be a value add to the total force."

One would think its history alone would put it at the top of the list.

Since June of 1923, SANG has been providing aerial refueling for the nation's military. The 100-year milestone was celebrated last fall with a proclamation issued by the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. It honored the history of the pilots who pulled off the seemingly impossible at the time by refueling a plane while in the air and the continued service of the 171st Air Refueling Squadron and 107th fighter squadron assigned to the 127th Wing.

Today the 127th Air Refueling Group consists of 40 KC-135 pilots and 25 boom operators, who have been flying KC-135 Stratotankers since 2007 when it converted to the tanker from the C-130 Hercules.

Worldwide deployments by the flying fortress have included support operations in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East. Its squadron consists of some of the military's most experienced pilots including five Air Force Weapons School graduates, who would go through conversion training in order to fly the next generation of refueling tankers.

As the delegation pointed out in its letter, the 171st and 107th squadron's valuable stellar record and experiences provide a value add for air mobility and air combat commands at a fraction of the cost of active duty forces. Losing this group of pilots and maintainers, geographic advantages ( U.S. Canadian border) and combat experience is unacceptable for the Michigan delegation and would be a loss to the total force.

Also pointed out is what makes SANG unlike any other base such as its proximity to a major airline hub at Detroit Metropolitan/Wayne County Airport. This has allowed the 127th Wing to recruit and retain the highest quality pilots and maintenance personnel for their tanker and fighter missions, while maintaining a unique force of citizen airmen with a strong work-life balance, leading to SANG's strong 95% retention rate.

All branches of the military are also represented at the base on the shores of Lake St. Clair, supporting approximately 5,000 military and civilian jobs that generate an estimated $850 million in economic impact nationwide.

In closing, the group wrote that they were encouraged by the Air Force's correspondence in July 2021, outlining its intent to replace Selfridge's current KC-135 Stratoankers with KC-46 tankers but also requested a robust and detailed timeline of when and how this transition will take place and what obstacles might remain that prevent SANG from procuring F-35As and F-15EXs in the future.

"The KC-46s are the tanker of the future. Securing a new squadron of these next-generation aircraft will keep Selfridge operational for decades," said Peters. "I led this effort because it was important for us to push the Air Force to make a firm, public commitment to base these tankers at Selfridge, and I'll keep fighting until we have that in hand."

"I'm also committed to continue fighting for a new fighter jet mission — something that Selfridge is uniquely well-suited for," he added.

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